Strong & Deep: Veterans battling freshmen, each other for baseball starting spots

Jack Leggett: 'I’ve mentioned everybody because everybody out there has a legitimate chance to fight for some playing time'

Baseball - Tyler Krieger

Photo by Mark Crammer

Baseball - Tyler Krieger

Though a highly-regarded freshman class that’s especially strong on versatile infielders will be in the 2014 mix for the Clemson baseball team, coach Jack Leggett also likes what he’s seen during the fall training season from his returning players.

In fact, in both the infield and outfield, the Tigers appear to have depth and competition at every position, and that prospect of players fighting for time on the field is an ideal situation from a coaching standpoint.

A run-through of the options at second base alone provides a glimpse of the competitive dynamic within the team, and some insight, as well, into why Leggett believes that every player on his roster is capable of contributing.

“You’ve got Stevie Wilkerson, who played a lot for us at second base last year,” said Leggett. “But with Eli White and Weston Wilson (two of the Tigers’ heralded freshmen), and then Jay Baum, and Mike Dunster, all those guys are pushing everybody at second base. Still, Stevie’s a good player for us, and he’s got some versatility, and he’s got a chance to be really good for us this season if he gets everything together, and if he’s consistent and does what he has to do out there on the field.”

Baum and Dunster, along with shortstop Tyler Krieger, are in that returning infield group that has continued to develop.

“In the infield, Jay is coming off the summer in the Cape Cod League, and it looks like he’s a little stronger and is better offensively,” said Leggett. “He’s always been a good defensive player for us. And Mike is a year better than he was last year as an offensive player.

“Also, I think Krieger is going to be a really good player for us at shortstop. In my opinion, he had a great freshman year for us as a shortstop. He’s a good leader, and as an offensive player he’s gotten much better and much stronger.”

At first base, Andrew Cox has shown promise and is pushing defensive standout Jon McGibbon for the starting job.

“Andrew is a kid who’s showing some good things at first base for us this year in the fall,” said Leggett. “And Jon is as good a defensive player as you can have out there. We’ve just got to have him hit. He’s got to believe in himself, and believe in his hitting ability, and give us something there. Andrew’s pushing him, and Andrew has a lot of positive energy that he brings to the table every single day. So there’s some competition there.”

In the outfield, where there’s only one freshman addition (Reed Rohlman), Leggett will depend almost exclusively on returning players.

“Steven Duggar in the outfield had a great year as a Freshman All-American, so we feel really good about what he’s got to offer coming back,” said Leggett. “Tyler Slaton and Maleeke Gibson are guys who played and alternated a little bit last year in left field, but they’re both going to be fighting for some time in centerfield and left field. Slaton’s a guy who can run the outfield a little bit like (former Tiger) Thomas Brittle, which is a really positive thing. Also, Mike Triller is back, and last year he ended up starting some games late in the year for us.

“And then Shane Kennedy has a chance to be a good player for us. We’ve kind of moved him from the infield to the outfield, so that he can play some left field for us. He’s got to work on his defense right now. And there’s Joe Costigan, who’s always been a pretty good hitter for us. John Mulkey’s another kid who I haven’t talked about, but he’s been injured and it’s been very tough to see how he plays in the outfield, so we’ll just have to see how he comes along.”

Leggett says that everyone on the roster is in a position to contend for playing time, and believes that the healthy competition will continue once the season’s underway.

“I think I’ve pretty much mentioned everybody,” he said. “But the reason I’ve mentioned everybody, is because everybody out there, I think, has a legitimate chance to show what they can do, and a legitimate chance, maybe, to fight for some playing time, and to figure out a way to beat somebody out who’s been ahead of them.”

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